Online Text Sermon - John ch.1 v.29
|Rev. Iain Smith, Tasmania
|  (Communion Friday)
|John ch.1 v.29
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"The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1, 29).
The cross of Jesus Christ is the central resource of the Christian religion. Its message of Gospel salvation feeds the various arteries of the Christian church and it brings life and vitality to the soul of Christian people, the souls of the Lord's people in the world. But it does more than that: it provides Christians with a framework within which they are to live in this world and also a framework within which they are to prepare themselves for the world to come. As such, Christianity is superlative among the religions of the world. It does more than give one a sense of deity; it does more than provide an avenue of religious expression; it does more than instil an awareness of brotherhood into those who support it; it does more than promote feelings of piousness and religious fervour. Other religions do all of that: Islam, Hinduism and many others will claim all of that. However, the Gospel - the cross of Jesus Christ - goes way beyond what Islam has to offer the Muslim or what the Hindu derives from his religion, much, much more. Our Bible reveals to us what a meaningful and reciprocating relationship with God is. It teaches us in fine detail what that means. Those who are born again of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus, they are given a personal assurance of their salvation. It is not something superstitious or abstract; it is something that is based on the Word of God, on the promise of God and on the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit of God. Furthermore, Christians who are born again of the spirit of Christ can have an intelligent as well as a spiritual apprehension of both how their salvation was procured and how it is applied to themselves personally and to others. Yes, our Gospel goes way beyond what any other religion has to offer; it shows us clearly the destiny of all mankind. Yet, sadly, the Gospel is not free from the abstract nor from the superstitious - at least, in how many people relate to the Gospel.
For far too many people the cross of Jesus Christ is not all together unlike what Mecca is to Islam or the Ganges River to the Hindu. Multitudes of people cling to a hope that somehow or other a physical cross, whether it is round our necks, on church buildings or somewhere else, may hold some merit for them. They cling to the hope that coming to church - regularly or irregularly - may have some merit for them. Reading their Bible, saying the odd prayer - all of this can be used in the presence of God as a warrant of acceptance. My friends, all of that can achieve no more than Mecca or the Ganges have to offer. You can persuade yourself that you can feel cleansed, renewed and at peace with God. You can have that experience but important as experience, feelings and emotions are, the Gospel is about more than that. Jesus Christ didn't die to give sinners a religious buzz or a spiritual high. He died to bring salvation to you; He died to give you real hope - not something that will die with the dawning of a new day. The important question for men and women, boys and girls, is to ask, "What does the cross of Jesus Christ mean to me?" As we contemplate here this Sabbath Day the Gospel and the sacrament of the Lord's Supper - what does the cross mean to me? I want you to ask yourself that question. What is the Gospel to you? What is the Lamb of God to you? It is essential, my friends, to get this right in our lives. As you live out your life busily engaging from time to time in your religiosity, you are building - yes, you are building - but upon what foundation?
The Lord stressed the importance of the foundation. One man He says can build his house upon a rock and another can build it upon sand. Only one will stand the test of time, trial and tribulation. It is not without reason that in the praise of God we have just sung, our Saviour is described as a Chief Cornerstone. Born again Christians are married, wedded, built into that Chief Cornerstone; that's our hope and salvation. "Because I live, ye shall live also" (John 14, 19); "I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore" (Revelation 1, 18). That's my hope my friend! Is it yours? Hence the Gospel - the Bible - demonstrates the Lord Jesus Christ as the linchpin of God's salvation. He is everything to the believer in his relationship to God: He is our Saviour, our Kinsman Redeemer, our Prophet, Priest and King, our Lord, our God. Crucial to all this is the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. John tells us later on, when he wrote his epistle, what our fellowship really is, how intimate it is: "our fellowship," he says, "is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ" (John 1:3). A more glorious picture of that intimate family relationship you cannot imagine. How it should humble us that we can cherish this thought for ourselves - my fellowship! Not with some abstract stoic god but with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. What a beautiful touching picture the Gospel offers to us.
In order to appreciate the Gospel in this manner we must see Jesus in a very peculiar way. Tomorrow - if those of you who will sit at the Sacrament Table are spared - this will be done for you in two ways. You will see Jesus in the elements of the Sacrament. That's what He wants you to see. He doesn't want you to see mere bread and wine; He wants you to see Himself. As you look at the elements you'll be hearing His own voice saying, "This is my body, which is broken for you" (1 Corinthians 11, 24); "This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matthew 26, 28). As if He were saying to His people that as we live our lives and as we march on through time towards eternity, let us never forget the cost of our salvation: "This is my body, which is broken for you" (1 Corinthians 11, 24).
Here we have an example of one man seeing Jesus in a way that was quite different from anything that he had seen before. John the Baptist seeing Jesus and declaring - "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (text). John is seeing Jesus here coming back from the desert or the wilderness after spending forty days being tempted of Satan. Almost six weeks prior to this John had baptised Jesus and what a glorious experience that was. It was on the banks of the River Jordan and he baptised this sinless, perfect, holy Son of God with a baptism of sinners. "And Jesus, when he was baptised, went up straightway out of the water: an lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3, 16-17).. All of that may have influence upon John as he declares here - "Behold the Lamb of God" (text). Quite possibly it did influence him but his words are so unusual. To describe the Messiah in this way was virtually unheard of. Messiah was spoken of in many ways in Old Testament Scriptures and by the prophets of old. They spoke of Him as a Prophet; they spoke of Him as a Priest; they spoke of Him as a Servant; no-one spoke of His as a Lamb. No-one had referred to Him in this way before. It was obvious that John was given an unusual insight into the Messiah's work and death, and into what He was going to accomplish whilst in the world. It is an insight that ought to bring us into what the very heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about. It is an insight which brings the cross to the foreground, of not only our minds, but of our very lives.
I want us this evening with the help of God's Spirit and speaking with all reverence to try and enter into the psyche of the Baptist, to try and catch the bent of his mind as he declares these words, "Behold the Lamb of God..." (text).
Similar to the rest of the Old Testament prophets and the servants of God, John belonged to that period in world history when the great religion of the Jews was about to go through changes of seismic proportions. You could argue that the change was already under way and that all the years and centuries of the Jewish history in which they were under attack on so many sides, from so many different directions and with so many enemies, it's a wonder they survived at all. Now they are facing the greatest challenge of all from one man - Jesus of Nazareth. He is about to introduce changes to that religion that not all the enemies in the world could have brought about. John the Baptist is on the very threshold of this. Among some of his peers and contemporaries there would be a total rejection of that change - a rejection that persists to this very day. For others, they saw what the prophets saw, what the Baptist saw - at least they saw something of it. They were given an insight also, so that you find the New Testament writers making continual reference to what was written in the Old Testament about Messiah, as if they were totally convinced that with every step Jesus of Nazareth took - from the manger to the cross - He was fulfilling Messianic prophecy. The change was under way - escalating and growing stronger and more evolutionary the closer He came to Calvary.
John the Baptist is standing somewhere in the vicinity of the River Jordan and he is thinking, no doubt, of the Old Testament Scriptures. He is thinking, no doubt, of his own youth and upbringing and what Judaism was all about, of the many stories he heard as a little boy, the many sermons he himself preached involving the Messianic theme. Perhaps now, for the first time, it is beginning to make perfect sense. We believe that many of these Old Testament prophets preached things they themselves didn't quite understand. We believe that David, as he penned Psalm twenty-two, couldn't possibly have a full appreciation of the impact of his own words. Perhaps that is how it was with the Baptist: all those years in the wilderness, all those sermons he had preached and yet, only now, did it all begin to make sense. Only now did his boyhood stories begin to crystallise and take life, a form of life that he had never hitherto seen: the teaching and instruction of Zacharias his father; the teaching of the religious leaders, despite how much they had abused Judaism until now, yet, there was enough left for the Messianic teaching to be present. For one thousand five hundred years people like John the Baptist waited and waited and waited for Messiah to come. There was such confusion, wasn't there? We even get a taste of that confusion with John himself being questioned: "Who art thou" (1, 19). "Art thou Elias [Elijah]"? And he saith I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No" (1, 21). There was the same confusion at the Mount of Transfiguration - or at least that is where the answer was given shortly before that when Jesus questioned them: "Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias [Elijah]; and others, Jeremias [Jeremiah], or one of the prophets" (Matthew 16, 14). Total confusion! Do you remember how Jesus gave an answer to that confusion? How He showed so distinctly that He and He alone was the Messiah, that He and He alone would be seen shining in the beauty of His holiness. There, standing on either side of Him, were the two people with whom He was confused - Moses and Elijah. Neither of them shone in the beauty of holiness but Jesus did. "Behold the Lamb of God..." (text).
Before I go into these words can I mention in the passing that this remains an essential character of the Gospel, of the cross of Jesus Christ: it makes sense of this world and of our own lives; it makes sense of our existence. There is so much, my friends, which is mysterious, shadowy and confusing. There is so much we don't understand and that is perplexing to us but the Gospel makes sense of it all. The cross is central to God's purpose for mankind - it educates and instructs mankind in all its activity, industry and operation. Most of all, it instructs men and women, boys and girls, how to be born again; how to establish that relationship with God which will stand the test of judgement. It teaches sinners about the love of God.
What did the Baptist see as he gazed upon the lonely figure of Jesus coming back from the wilderness? Well, John would have been familiar with not merely the Old Testament Scriptures but certain themes which were essential to that religion, part of which would be the role played by three very important lambs which were central to Judaism, central to how the Jewish people lived down through the ages of the Old Testament. Lambs became part of the folklore. Lambs had become essential to the stories parents would have told their children. Lambs had become part of the debating forum for adults as they thrashed out the finer points of theology. John would have been very familiar with it. Perhaps he's seeing them now as he had never seen them before. Perhaps he is seeing them in connection with Messiah as he had never hitherto seen them. I am going to mention them in a word, and each of these lambs carries its own peculiar theme.
1. THE FIRST LAMB - LOVE AND SUBSTITUTION
The first one is the lamb that God provided Abraham with at Mount Moriah. The theme here is love and substitution.
This is the story recorded in Genesis twenty-two when Abraham was instructed to offer his son Isaac on Mount Moriah. It wasn't merely his son - if you are familiar with this story - but his 'beloved' son. Mark that word; it is so pregnant with meaning in the economy of God's dealings with mankind. Abraham willingly sacrificed his son although he didn't actually do it; he did it in heart. He did it in the conviction that God was able to resurrect Isaac from the dead, that God had power over the power of death. That is what we are informed of in Hebrews 11. What I want to attract your attention to is the answer Abraham gave to the solemn question put to him by his son. You men who are fathers, you can imagine something of the natural dilemma in Abraham's heart. We can be wholly confident in our God and yet go through these dilemmas at a natural level. One doesn't cancel out the other. Isaac asked him as he saw the altar and the knife, as he saw everything ready for death, he looked at his father and he said, "Where is the lamb?" (Genesis 22, 7). My friends, that is solemn question. That is a question every sinner should be asking: "Where is the lamb?" You remember the answer he gave: "God will provide himself a lamb" (Genesis 22, 8). What a beautiful answer. What an answer to give the world in its misery - searching, searching, searching for an answer in the despair of sin. One answer we have to give America and Afghanistan - "God has provided himself a lamb". God will give every sinner a Lamb.
Here is the Baptist - part of a community in waiting for one thousand five hundred years knowing God had promised salvation, knowing that the prophets had predicted this for centuries, knowing that the blood of countless animals would never give lasting peace to the heart of man - and he sees Messiah coming. He realises that the waiting is now over. The story of Moriah seems to be flooding his mind - God has provided Himself a Lamb! "Behold" - this is a very strong word in the Scriptures: look intently, study Him and discern in Him the Lamb of God. "Behold the Lamb of God" (text). I wonder, my friends, is that what Jesus is to you here this evening? Is that what the cross and the Gospel mean to you: Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God? He is the Substitute given in love - "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3, 16). Here's the Lamb; God on the horns of an altar! At Calvary, Golgotha, the Lamb of God died in the room and stead of sinners - substitution in love! A sacrifice full of power, hope and love: "Behold the Lamb of God" (text). That's the first lamb - the lamb of Moriah.
2. THE SECOND LAMB - SECURITY AND DELIVERANCE
The second lamb is the lamb Moses used in the Passover in Egypt. The theme here would be security and deliverance.
The story as you know is recorded in Exodus 12. When God chose to free the children of Israel, a 'chosen' lamb - and notice that; the first one was a 'beloved' lamb, this is a 'chosen' lamb; not any lamb would have done - a chosen lamb had to be sacrificed. The blood had to be sprinkled in a peculiar way on the homes of the Israelite people. These important factors were essential if the children of Israel were to be delivered, on the one hand from the bondage of slavery and on the other from the angel of death. Here's the Baptist again: knowing the spiritual application of those factors and knowing that it remained of the utmost importance that the lamb must be a very special lamb - not every lamb would do. There must be a proper application of the blood; it must be sprinkled precisely as God instructs in His own Word. Without this, my friends, there could be no liberty from the power of sin in the human heart and no deliverance from the final judgement and the wrath to come.
With the Passover lamb to the foreground of his mind the Baptist cried, "Behold the Lamb of God" (text). If there was ever a suitable lamb, a lamb without spot or blemish, holy undefiled, separate from sinners (Hebrews 7, 26) - there He is! "Behold the Lamb of God" (text). A proper application of His blood still secures deliverance, still makes men and women, boys and girls, secure in the promises of the Gospel. As you contemplate the death of Christ in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, if you are spared to participate in it, I wonder if this is how your own mind will be working. In your feebleness and weakness, with all your faults and failings, will you find your security and deliverance in the Lamb of God? Is this your hope? O my friends, we can truly be "more than conquerors through him [Christ] who loved us" (Romans 8, 37). There is power in that blood. When the angel of death went through Egypt that night, what authority he had, what power was his; he raged through Egypt wreaking havoc and death until he came to a house with blood over its lintels and side posts. That angel, with all its power and authority, could go no further - stopped by the power of the blood! "More than conquerors" (Romans 8, 37).
3. THE THIRD LAMB - MERCY AND FORGIVENESS
The third lamb is the lamb used by Aaron as a sin offering as is recorded for us in Leviticus 4. The theme here is mercy and forgiveness.
No doubt the most important sin offering made in Israel was conducted on the Day of Atonement. The lambs or goats were taken to the temple and the high priest confessed the sin of Israel over the scapegoat; the other goat was sacrificed but the scapegoat was led out to the wilderness. There, the prominent role was given to the high priest- he's the man in focus; whereas in the sin offering in Leviticus 4, the focus is on the individual - the poor sinner who comes with his lamb to the temple. He, not the high priest, he must put his hands over the lamb confessing his sin, he must sacrifice the lamb. The stress here is on the importance of dealing personally and individually with our sin before God. No priest can confess my sins for me; no priest can do what I must do before God - Gospel salvation is far too personal for that. Forgiveness and atonement was sought by the children of Israel coming with that lamb to the temple. Here's the Baptist, realising that very point - just how personal salvation is and how important it is that we, as individuals, must seek this atonement and forgiveness - that we must confess our sins before a holy God. Realising all of this the Baptist cries out, "Behold the Lamb of God" (text).
My friends, we can benefit greatly from Christian fellowship, others can do many things for us. However, in the community of the Christian church no one can confess your sins for you. No one can conduct your business in the presence of God but you and you alone. It is an intensely personal thing to seek salvation in Jesus Christ.
These words of John the Baptist bring us in to the very heart of what the Gospel is all about: "Behold the Lamb of God" (text): a Lamb provided by God, a sacrifice made necessary by sin and shed blood as the reconciling agent between God and sinners. If we are to enjoy all that God has to offer, if we are to enjoy the Gospel and if the cross is to be meaningful in our lives, our sin must be taken away. God knows of only one way - the Lamb - "the Lamb", John says, "which taketh away the sin of the world" (text). As we contemplate, my friends, the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, I must ask you a question, especially in the light of tragic events last week in America [9/11- the twin towers] where we abhor such mass murder and where we can still find forgiveness for those who perpetrated such an atrocity. Let's assume that one man is responsible for all of this. When he appears before the Judgement Seat of Christ, what will be the first charge laid against him? Will it be that he was responsible for the murder of thousands of people? No, my friends, no! Atrocious as that act was, there is an infinitely greater sin - this sin of unbelief. That, I believe, is "the sin of the world" (text). It is 'sin' singular in that text. The greatest danger to you is not what you have done socially, how you have conducted yourself amongst men or what you are before God. Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? If you do you have every reason to rejoice and look forward to the privileges of the Gospel and the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. That broken body and shed blood has the means of taking away the unbelief that would have sent you to the deepest hell. "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (text).
This is the glory of the Gospel, the glory of the cross of Jesus Christ - unbelief is taken away. Men and women, boys and girls, are made free to believe in God, free to love God, free to live their lives in obedience to him, free to die in peace knowing that they will immediately pass in to glory. Meanwhile, as we are left on mercy's ground, we must take advantage of all the privileges that God has set aside for us. We must attend diligently upon the Gospel. We must take care that we obey His every commandment. Can you imagine a more important commandment than, "this do in remembrance of me" (1 Corinthians 11, 24).
Somebody once said that, before he was converted, if a gun had been pointed to his head, he would not have obeyed that commandment. But after saving grace flooded his mind he said the Red Army wouldn't stop him from doing this in memory of his Saviour. Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1, 29).
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